In Madison, eating and drinking is serious business.
This food-obsessed city has long had a reputation for punching above its culinary weight, and it has chefs and mixologists with the credentials to prove it.
But Madison is also known for having a quirky sense of humor, and its bars and restaurants are no different. Cleverly named dishes and drinks have popped up on menus throughout the city, allowing establishments to show off their creativity and giving customers a laugh. Whether it’s an inside joke among employees or a pun that’s just too good to resist, these morsels of mirth add fun and flavor to the ordering process — a little linguistic spice, if you will.
Take the Artisanal Malibu at Gib’s Bar.
Why is this funny, you ask? Because it’s simultaneously making fun of people who use the word “artisanal” as well as people who drink Malibu rum, Gib’s staff says. This cocktail is, of course, much classier, featuring the finest coconut-washed rum, fresh lime and gomme syrup.
This is exactly the kind of esoteric, cocktail-nerd humor you should expect from the bartenders at Gib’s. Oh, and it actually tastes like Malibu.
As a person who discovered the Blue Velvet Lounge (and its $5 martini drink special on Tuesdays) as a UW-Madison student, I can vouch that the Blue Velvet’s Cluster #$%& lives up to its name. It was there that I came to appreciate the Christopher Hitchens quote: “Martinis are like breasts — one is not enough, three is too many.” This doesn’t really apply to the Cluster#$%&, though, since it’s literally a gallon of booze and meant to be shared. As one astute Foursquare user noted: “Hella blackout!”
Then there’s the Club Tavern’s Manley Mann Balls.
Get your mind out of the gutter. These delicious, deep-fried spheres, made from tater tots, cheese and bacon, are actually named after Club Tavern’s daytime manager Darcee Manley. But the fun doesn’t stop there. There’s an entire menu section devoted to “balls of fun,” with a chicken and a fried mac ’n’ cheese version. They’re served with creamy ranch dressing, of course.
With its reputation for putting simple, rustic ingredients on a pedestal, it’s no wonder that Forequarter has elevated the humble tuber to high-class levels with its Haute Potato, Haute Potato. Sweet potato rum anchors this concoction of cranberry, maple, becherovka (a Czech digestive) and bitters. It’s best enjoyed while noshing on local greens and sustainably raised meats. And it’s even served haute — er, warm.
Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible. Same goes for this omelet from the Hubbard Avenue Diner, named for Euell Gibbons, the famous naturalist and food forager of the 1970s. While perhaps a true Euell Gibbons recipe would include cattails, lambsquarters or, at the very least, wild asparagus, this dish features mainstream ingredients like mushrooms, red onions, green peppers and tomatoes. Safe to say it’s better than Grape-Nuts.
In some households, dropping an F-bomb will get you a mouthful of soap. Not so at Banzo, where uttering the phrase will get you two falafel balls paired with grilled chicken or beef mini-burgers. You can F-up your order with a variety of preparations: pita sandwich, salad, platter or hummus plate. Add pickles, hot sauce and tahini, and you’ll be saying: “F-yes.”
At the Tip Top Tavern, the Chicken Burlesque is a little more subtle play on words. They’re chicken strips — get it? And just as a burlesque dancer is a classed-up version of a stripper, the Tip Top Tavern is an elevated dive bar with great food and drink. For this “tip topa,” house-battered chicken breast is stripped and served with barbecue or buffalo sauce. And you don’t even have to throw dollar bills at it.
Over at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner, located in the heart of the near east side, there is likely a heathen or vegan or two dining at any given time at the restaurant. But employees say the name of the Heathen Vegan Shoplifter’s Delight sandwich comes from its relatively expensive ingredients: portobello mushrooms, tempeh and avocado. Add provolone if you want to be really bad.
God bless Mariah Carey. The Elusive Chanteuse is a diva of the highest order. Same with Merchant’s Mariah Curry cocktail, which blends an unusual mix of ingredients such as gin, housemade pomegranate-curry syrup, lemon juice and heavy cream. It’s so good you might have an emotional breakdown.
Stoners and sandwiches have been best friends forever. And frankly, it’s surprising that it took until 2013 to bring a marijuana-themed restaurant to Madison. When the munchies kick in, head to Cheba Hut and reach for the Chronic — roast beef, barbecue sauce, bell peppers, mushrooms and cheddar. It comes in three sizes: nug, pinner or blunt.
Stop. It’s hamachi time. The delightful MC Hama maki roll at Tavernakaya features yellowtail, cucumber, scallions, jalapeño and a fun hip-hop reference. As MC Hammer himself says: “You can’t touch this.” Luckily, chopsticks are available. Parachute pants not included.